July 26, 2011

My Top Ten Ghostie Films

Having recently read another blogger's top ten list of supernatural horror movies (none of which I would put in mine), I thought this would be a good moment to share my favourite ghostie films with you all.

As usual, the italicised synopsis of each film is taken from the IMDb to save time.

The Haunting1. The Haunting (1963)

"Dr. Markway, doing research to prove the existence of ghosts, investigates Hill House, a large, eerie mansion with a lurid history of violent death and insanity. With him are the skeptical young Luke, who stands to inherit the house, the mysterious and clairvoyant Theodora and the insecure Eleanor, whose psychic abilities make her feel somehow attuned to whatever spirits inhabit the old mansion."

I've often mentioned Robert Wise's "The Haunting" when referring to the best horror films ever made and, obviously, it's one of my top ten favourite horror films of all time. The funny thing is that I actually came to it a lot later than most people. I hadn't even heard of it until horror author James Herbert talked about it during BBC2's Hallowe'en special in 1992. Being a big fan of Herbie, I had to check it out. Although I didn't find it quite as terrifying as he did, I thoroughly enjoyed it and believe that it still has the power to scare anybody except me.

The Others2. The Others (2001)

"A woman who lives in a darkened old house with her two photosensitive children becomes convinced that her family home is haunted."

Being one of the few ghost films that I've seen in a movie theatre, "The Others" will always be special to me especially as it has the only jump scare that has ever caught me out and made me drop my bucket of cola all over myself. As if I wasn't moist enough already just from looking at Nicole Kidman! This really is a great ghost story with a twist that most people won't see coming at all.

The Innocents3. The Innocents (1961)

"A young governess for two children becomes convinced that the house and grounds are haunted."

You don't have to be a Deborah Kerr fan to enjoy "The Innocents" and, in fact, it probably helps if you aren't since she is completely different here to any of her other more romantic Hollywood roles. The story is based on Henry James' "The Turn of the Screw" of course but don't let that put you off. It's not as if you have to read it. This is very creepy and atmospheric stuff with an ending that may still shock some people.

The Legend of Hell House4. The Legend of Hell House (1973)

"A team consisting of a physicist, his wife, a young female psychic and the only survivor of the previous visit are sent to the notorious Hell House to prove/disprove survival after death."

Although it's little more than a reworking of "The Haunting" with lots more gore and sexiness, John Hough made arguably the best film of his career here and Roddy McDowell certainly gave the best performance of his. Although the events are a little bit far-fetched and the film looks like a really scary episode of 'The Avengers", it's all done with such seriousness that you'll be on the edge of your seat several times and maybe even end up behind the sofa.

The Lady in White5. Lady in White (1988)

"Locked in a school closet during Halloween 1962, young Frank witnesses the ghost of a young girl and the man who murdered her years ago. Shortly afterward he finds himself stalked by the killer and is soon drawn to an old house where a mysterious Lady In White lives. As he discovers the secret of the woman he soon finds that the killer may be someone close to him."

Probably the least scary ghost film on my list but certainly the most beautifully filmed. If you are nostalgic about your childhood and want to see something with great acting and a mystery to it, Frank LaLoggia's old fashioned ghost story is the film for you. If you aren't American, Guillermo del Toro's "The Devil's Backbone" (2001) is similar enough to be a great alternative.

The Orphanage6. The Orphanage (2007)

"A woman brings her family back to her childhood home, where she opens an orphanage for handicapped children. Before long, her son starts to communicate with an invisible new friend.

Almost as sentimental at the end as "Lady in White" but with a similar look and feel to it as "The Others" (which was also made by a Spanish director), "El Orfanato" is a very spooky ghost story which develops into quite a sad mystery. Even though it sometimes feels like a vehicle for Belén Rueda to show off her acting skills, you won't be disappointed unless you are expecting something a lot less tragic and more akin to a standard horror story.

The Changeling7. The Changeling (1980)

"A man staying at a secluded historical mansion, finds his life being haunted by the presence of a spectre."

I probably should have placed this higher up in the list but, on a very personal level, I've never been able to feel anything for George C. Scott's character. I think you'd either have to be a music teacher who was recently bereaved yourself to be able to sympathise or at least have a soul. The ghost story itself is absolutely terrifying in places and George C. Scott gives a great performance so it most certainly belongs here.

Ghost Story8. Ghost Story (1981)

"Four successful elderly gentlemen, members of the Chowder Society, share a gruesome, 50-year old secret. When one of Edward Wanderley's twin sons dies in a bizarre accident, the group begins to see a pattern of frightening events developing."

Based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Peter Straub but with much truncation and conflated characters, there is still enough here to give you a few genuine scares if you don't try to over analyse the plot holes. Alice Krige (the hot mother from "Sleepwalkers") alternates between sexy and creepy but looks a lot better than a Borg (yes, she was in "Star Trek" too).

The Fog (Special Edition)9. The Fog (1980)

"A Northern California fishing town, built 100 years ago over an old leper colony, is the target for revenge by a killer fog containing zombie-like ghosts seeking revenge for their deaths."

Not the best film that John Carpenter has ever made but compared to his latest effort certainly not the worst either. Even though some of the edits are a little bit rough and none of the characters apart from Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) and Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) are very memorable, there's still a lot of tension to this which is something which you don't find in many horror films since. It's very much a horror film with extremely vengeful ghosts but it's actually a scary one too due to leaving a lot more to your imagination than you get to see on screen.

Haunting Passion10. The Haunting Passion (1983)

"Dan was a successful football player, but when his contract expired recently, it wasn't renewed due to his age. Together with his wife Julie he decides to make a new start and they move into a romantic and lonesome house."

Jane Seymour and Gerald McRaney really act their hearts out (but not literally for those who are hoping) in this made-for-TV ghost story. Since this is my list of favourites, I've got to include this often overlooked gem. Everything about this film works apart from the ending but there's nothing wrong there either if you are in the right mindset for it. It's not the scariest film ever but it's certainly one of the ghostliest (if that's even a word). I think most people will enjoy "The Haunting Passion" especially if they want to see Jane Seymour in some very erotic situations.

Runners-up which I could have included (but didn't) are "The Haunted" (1991) which was a great "based on true events" TV ghost story (but isn't available on DVD), "Haunted" (1995) which was based on the James Herbert novel but is just on the wrong side of average and too similar to "Ghost Story", and of course, any of the Japanese ghost stories or their remakes.

I deliberately didn't include "Poltergeist" (1982) because I get bored with it as soon as the paranormal researchers turn up, "The Shining" (1980) because I've never thought of it as a ghost story, or any of the Amityville films. The Amityville films are about demons rather than ghosts, as is "The Entity" (1982), and a lot of other "haunted house" rather than "ghost" films turn up on way too many top ten lists. I do try to keep things more precise and different.

Anyway, now that you've read mine, what are your favourite ghostie films?

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